Dillon approves new grant program to support restaurants
The Dillon Town Council approved another round of financial relief for local restaurants during a special session last week to help keep businesses afloat amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
Local restaurants have been hit hard by the most recent public health restrictions that barred indoor dining throughout the county in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Dillon is hoping a new grant program will help businesses weather the storm until patrons are allowed back inside once again.
“With this upcoming season, with the fact that September through March is one of their biggest revenue takes, it is a concern that they won’t have indoor dining,” said Dillon Finance Director Carri McDonnell. “… That’s a lot of their revenue for the year, and I know I’ve had restaurants tell me in the past that their winter season is what carries them through the shoulder season.”
On average, Dillon restaurants lost 62% of their revenue in April and 52% in May, with some recording loses upward of 80%, McDonnell said. She said overall revenue for the local restaurant community is down 26% from March to September.
This is the second round of financial assistance the town has offered since the beginning of the pandemic. In April, Dillon approved $250,000 in small business loans, $210,000 of which was distributed to local businesses. Town Manager Nathan Johnson said more than $100,000 of that money already has been reimbursed through the CARES Act, and Dillon is planning on using the reimbursement — along with leftover money from the spring loan program — to fund a new round of grants.
The Dillon Town Council voted unanimously to inject $210,000 into the new grant program, which would be enough to provide every restaurant in town with up to $10,000 to be used on rent or mortgage payments. Only restaurants in Dillon are eligible for the grants, and business owners must be able to prove revenue declines of at least 10% compared to last year.
There are 21 restaurants in town, including 13 that are locally owned, according to McDonnell. So far the town has received nine grant requests totaling around $80,000. Officials are planning to open another round of grants with any excess money to further help businesses with utilities, common area maintenance and other expenses.
Of note, the town is counting on state help in the form of the recently passed Special Session Senate Bill 001, which will provide $37 million in direct relief to small businesses in Colorado. But officials voiced concerns that the state funds might come too late to make a difference for some.
“The one concern that we have from a staff perspective is that the businesses are currently hurting, but it looks like the funds for this program at the state level wouldn’t be distributed until Feb. 13, which sort of piqued our anxiety looking at December and January,” Johnson said. “Some of these restaurants may not be in business if they can’t make some money between now and then.”
Local restaurant owners said the restrictions have created extreme difficulties financially and the extra help from the town is vital.
“I do appreciate their efforts to contribute and give back because we already don’t have enough small businesses in the area, especially when it comes to food and beverage,” said Lindsay Atkins, owner of Scrappy’s Pizza. “Even if we can save a couple businesses, it’s still better than none. I honestly think right now everywhere should be trying to save small businesses at this point because you’re going to see a massive economic downturn if you’re not helping and supporting locally.”
In addition to the grants, Dillon officials also are discussing ways to better market restaurants to visitors — including plans to work with Ice Castles this winter to provide their guests with information about local happy hour and takeout specials, and potentially providing better signage in town to promote takeout dining options.
“I think we have a moral issue here to help out our restaurants, which are a very important part of our lifestyle up here,” said council member Brad Bailey.
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